Laura Henschel

Brazil

Hometown: Coconut Creek, Florida
School: Pompano Beach High School
Sponsor District : District 6990
Sponsor Club: Pompano Beach, Florida
Host District: District 4500
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Joao Pessoa

 

My Bio


Oi! My name is Laura Henschel and I'm going to Brazil for my junior year of high school. To be honest, this experience scares me just as much as it excites me. The thought of learning to samba, going to Carnival, eating with new friends, and exploring an entirely new world makes me want to jump on the plane right now, but the thought of starting over in a bustling, unpredictable country makes me apprehensive. Brazil was my wildcard choice when deciding what country I wanted to explore. My main goal is to become fluent in a language that will prove proactive internationally, whether it be in business rooms in South America or on the streets of South Florida with locals and portuguese is ideal. I couldn't be more eager to sink my teeth into this new language. Currently, I live in Coconut Creek with my beautiful mother and Fort Lauderdale with my father. My brother frequently visits from his home at FSU. At my school, Pompano Beach High, I'm Sophomore Class secretary, and an active participant in Interact Club. When I'm not at school, I'm working as a barista at a health food store; my job has gotten me addicted to a good coffee which I hope I can find in Brazil! At this moment, I'm still in America, waiting to get on that plane to my new life in the unknown. I know these next few months will fly by and although it's terrifying, it will be the best thing I've been through thus far. A big 'thank you' to my supportive loved ones for helping me reach this point in my journey and a huge 'Olá' to all the new ones I'm soon about to meet.

The fruit here: super cheap and phenomenal!

The fruit here: super cheap and phenomenal!

First time riding a horse. It was awesome!

First time riding a horse. It was awesome!

Bolas in Gravatá

Bolas in Gravatá

My first açai here.. my Brasilero brother shows me how the locals do it!

My first açai here.. my Brasilero brother shows me how the locals do it!

My host brothers

My host brothers

Me trying to walk a slack line for the first time

Me trying to walk a slack line for the first time

Here's a small group of all of us in the Northeast!

Here's a small group of all of us in the Northeast!

Some of the best exchange students in the world!

Some of the best exchange students in the world!

These are Brazilian hot dogs.. definitely beats the American version

These are Brazilian hot dogs.. definitely beats the American version

My best friends here in Brazil! I love them to death

My best friends here in Brazil! I love them to death

I got the privilege to live in these for a weekend with 50 other exchange students!

I got the privilege to live in these for a weekend with 50 other exchange students!

Dia Das Virgens with my friends kkkkkk

Dia Das Virgens with my friends kkkkkk

My friends and I at one of the 'blocos' for Pre-Carnaval

My friends and I at one of the 'blocos' for Pre-Carnaval

Carnaval with my favorite exchangers! US and Hungary

Carnaval with my favorite exchangers! US and Hungary

American girls representing at Carnaval Olinda!

American girls representing at Carnaval Olinda!

My host brother and I second before the turn of the year

My host brother and I second before the turn of the year

Journals: Laura - Brazil

  • Laura, outbound to Brazil

    Ave Maria.. Nossa Senhora... Puxa.... Eitaaa... Oxeee.. Meu Deus! Where has the time gone?! 225 days have slipped through my fingers and now only a mere 133 remain. It’s unreal that my days are limited here. I fell in love with such an extraordinary place...

    My good friend Mackenzie Teek, who also did her exchange from Florida to Joao Pessoa, said to me once, “My city [our city] is my little piece of the universe.” I couldn’t agree more. Like each place, my city has its downsides and annoying quirks.. but they’ve become MY quirks. The people, music, food, love, language, way of life: it’s all become a part of me.

    In the past few months of my exchange much has gone on. Chronologically...

    December: I spent my summer break in my city, and being the biggest city in my state, we had a lot of exchange students visit me and my friends. Exchangers from Mexico, US, Taiwan, Finland, Poland, England, Scotland... it’s safe to say I have a couch to crash on in any country in the world practically! I enjoyed many shows and music festivals here, mostly electronic music.

    By the time Christmas rolled around, I spent it with my first host family in Boa Viagem, Recife. I got to know the ENTIRE city with them, including Olinda, Recife Antigo, Casa Amarela, and Mercado de Sao Jose, which has everything imaginable for dirt cheap. There I also enjoyed the company of more exchange students! On Christmas Eve, we had a dinner party with very traditional Brazilian food and music. For New Year’s, we returned back to Joao Pessoa and my host brother and I celebrated on the beach for a free show with some of the Northeast’s most well-known artists. There must of been millions of people, all dressed in white, counting down with us! It was magical.

    January: Shortly after New Year’s, I traveled to Aracaju and Salvador to visit yet MORE exchangers! We went down to Bahia and got to see David Guetta at a rave, and we had a goodbye party for our only ‘oldie’ (the exchange students from Germany, Australia, etc who arrive in January instead of August). A week there, and I was back to my city to enjoy the rest of my vacation with my friends. At the end of January I started school again, this time in the same class with my best friend from Denmark. I am really enjoying this new class as opposed to my previous year!

    February: Ah the best month so far because of the famous Carnaval! The entire month it seems has been block party after festival after party after show! The entire country stops what they’re doing to celebrate before and during the 4 day Carnaval. Joao Pessoa has amazing block parties where we shut down the biggest street in the city and have themed parties for days on end! My absolute favorite was ‘Dia Das Virgens’ where men of all gender and sexual orientations dress up as women and parade down the streets! It was the best thing I’ve seen in my life. My friends in makeup, heels, and dresses.... I will never forget.

    For actual Carnaval, my American friend and I went to Olinda, in Recife for one of the most famous parties in all of Brasil. At Quatro Cantos, an intersection in the historic downtown center, there are literally MILLIONS of people in costumes and with music parading around the city. Out of amazing luck, we found our two friends who live in Natal, from France and Hungary. From sun up to sun down we stayed and partied with the most hilarious Brazilians in the most creative costumes. My friend and I wore our American flags and that got us an amazing amount of acceptance from the locals. Each one would quickly think of an English word to yell at us to impress us.. most of them were entirely random, like ‘XBOX!’ ‘Beverly Hills!’ ‘Freezer!’ etc.

    Beside Carnaval, I had the amazing opportunity to do a photoshoot with my amazing, talented friend, and we appeared on a TV interview because of it! I also switched families, to my wonderful mommy and my beautiful sister. We get along really well. I continue to spend my free time on the beach, practicing my Português, singing Wesley Safadão, and loving my friends.

    That’s just about up to date with today. In the upcoming months I have plenty of more travels planned (Buenos Aires? Sao Paulo? Rio? Amazon?), plenty of more festivities and shows, and plenty of more to learn from my incredible Brazilian friends. Stay tuned for more excitement from the best year ever.

    PS. 4500 may have to be the second best Rotary district in the world (after 6990 of course) because of my chairman and club here. I am thankful to be able to travel so much, and to have the opportunities that they’ve given me. Amo vocês demais!


  • Laura, outbound to Brazil

    Opa! Where have I left off? Almost 2 months ago is the last time I wrote and my life have changed immensely since then. On the surface, I look almost the same. Sure, a hair color change, some new clothes, 300 new Instagram followers (Instagram is big in Brazil, guys)... but more than the superficial things, the stuff visible from the surface, I myself have changed deeply in the core.

    They say a person always has the same core, the same soul, with the same principle ‘self’ always there.... I beg to differ. I could not be more different under the skin from when I first arrived. Instead of listing everything that’s changed, one stanza of a poem has really summed up my exchange and how I’m feeling about life in general now:

    “Do not go gentle into that good night,
    Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

    It’s so important now to me to fight against the end, the death as Dylan Thomas was describing in his famous poem. I struggle everyday to make my exchange count, to do something new and scary and exciting, to have a memorable day with great people, to appreciate every second I was granted here in Brazil. Each day comes closer to the dying of my day, my exchange, and I refuse to accept it and go lightly.

    My days have become ‘normal’ around this time. No more field trips to the grocery store, now I go alone sometimes. I have my own bus pass which I use a lot to get around my city, instead of being clueless on which way is which. Some stores and restaurants recognize me now, knowing my order even before I ask. I’ve become somewhat of a local. School was great, but thanks to being south of the equator I’m on summer break now and I have lots of free time to go to the beach, travel, and see my friends.

    I talk about it every journal, but my language was the main reason why I wanted to go on exchange, and now to comfortably say that I am bilingual is something I never thought possible... I have a LONG way to go before I can have the large vocabulary I want, with the Northeastern accent that I want, etc. The little things make me so excited, when I open my text messages and have conversations in TWO languages.. or when people ask me if I’m from Portugal or from the South, because my Portuguese is good, but the accent is unrecognizable (the gringa still hasn’t worn completely off). The most exciting thing is thinking something in Portuguese before I do in English, and knowing there isn’t quite the perfect translation I want...

    I’ll finish off my journal with some tips for future exchange students:

    Bring a journal. Mine on the website may seem a little bland, but when you don’t have pressure to write them, or when you need to pass time during the boring classes in school, it’s a great tool to remember your exchange and your feelings. My number one most important item I have on my exchange is my diary.
    Bring two of the important stuff. Two pairs of headphones, two retainers, two pairs of sunglasses. It’s nice when your exchange friends steal one pair or you lose them, because you will lose them... and bring four times as many pins as you think you need. I just brought around 50 and of course I’m over here buying supplies to make more. Some kids really have kick ass pins here, be warned....
    Leave your english books at home. If you’re really dedicated at learning your host language, you’ll never want to look at them and if you’re not that motivated it will only tempt you to use English instead of learning.
    Try to meet every new person you can, whether they’re from Rotary, your friend’s friends, your extended family, whomever. People love the exchange students, and if you put yourself out there, people love to do things for the exchange students ex. (free windsurfing, free food, free concert tickets, free trips to big cities, etc.)

    That’s all I’ve got for now. Laura Henschel signing out from Brazil.


  • Laura, outbound to Brazil

    I never imagined being able to express myself in a completely new way, the Portuguese way.

     Just like my last entry, I sat at my computer for about an hour trying to think about a way to start this, how to talk about my thoughts, my new life- how to put it all on paper. I can’t. I can’t discredit my experiences by summing them up into a few concise sentences.

    My life here in Joao Pessoa is NOTHING as I expected it to be. Before I arrived I anticipated a raw place, full of uncertainty. I’m glad I did, because now the reality is that much sweeter. It’s a dream I couldn’t have even thought of myself.

    I live in the Northeast of Brazil, considered the poorest and least populated part of Brazil along side the Amazon region. However my city is the perfect fit for me. It’s a little less than 1 million people, so it’s comparably small to the giants down south. It makes up for that in the unique gastronomy, rich culture, extraordinary people, and jaw-dropping landscapes.

    Food:

    On a daily basis with my family, we have pretty cultural non-specific food like many other Brazilians: Rice and beans (every day), chicken, steak, salad (always), bread, vegetables, etc. However restaurants here have amazing menus full of very traditional foods, and when having a party or churrasco, the food is very particular to Brazil and the Northeast. I encourage you to look up the following delicacies that you can’t find in the US, and for a good reason! There the best when made by Brazilians: Feijoada, cartola, cuscuz com leite e ovos, coração da galinha, carne do sol, brigadeiro, tapioca, coxinha, queijo coalho, açai, and salgados.

    Another awesome thing here is the great bakeries. There are tons with so many different types of breads and desserts that are all DELICIOUS.

    You’d think these foods would be attacking my waistline, but I actually lost weight being here because I eat so healthy and walk a lot.

    Language:

    Portuguese is such a beautiful and intriguing language that I have had the privilege to learn in the best environment possible.

    I did a considerable amount of worrying about learning Portuguese before I arrived, and to be honest it was all in vain. When I arrived knowing close to nothing, my family helped me incredibly with learning. However, I did have initiative. I wanted to learn, I asked thousands of questions, and firmly begged everyone to talk to me in Portuguese. Without drive, it wouldn’t have happened. But it did happen for me! Not that I am fluent by any means, but I can communicate anything I want to and understand every conversation already, which is the coolest feeling in the world. I can do everything in another language, which I didn’t have the ability to do before exchange.

    It has brought tears to my eyes to be able to share moments with my family and friends here that I otherwise couldn’t without the language being there. I never imagined being able to express myself in a completely new way, the Portuguese way. I find it cool that in Portuguese I have a different personality than in English!

    Just a few cool things different in Brazil compared to Florida:

    . People here use the ‘thumbs up’ gesture for EVERYTHING- saying thank you, being sarcastic, saying hello, crossing the street, approving of food, making purchases, literally everything. I use it like 50 times a day.

    . I’ve had a hard time adjusting to ‘Brazilian time’ and the Brazilian way of making plans, which usually consists of not making any plans at all/ arriving to a destination 3 hours late. I don’t exactly like being late on purpose, so it’s been a huge transition.

    . People have different accents from city to city, not region to region, so its super easy for people to know where you’re from. I love hearing someone from Sao Paulo for example, because their accent is hilarious to people from the Nordeste!

    . Nightlife here as far as festivals and parties and shows are usually all ages, which is strange compared to everything in the US being 21+. Here, even in the coolest concerts or parties you’ll find teens as well as adults.

    . Busses here are abundant, but not as abundant as the people who need to ride them. Whenever I use a bus, there is usually 40 people crammed next to me.

    . There are jobs here for very peculiar things. Some malls or buildings hire people to sit in the elevator and push the buttons for you. Busses have a man who sits there to give you change instead of using a card/automated. People pump gas into your car for you. Some stores hire a person to sit in the front and tally customers asking simply “Did you enjoy your experience?”. There are hundreds of city cleaners who mostly just sweep up leaves, on sidewalks. Homeless people/gang members ‘watch’ your car as you park it in a destination and you have to pay them before you leave. At stop lights, people will offer to wash your windows while you wait, or will sell things like random fruit or candy. When it rains, people will walk you to your destination using their umbrella for money in return. Men by the beach make flowers out of palm leaves and sell them to random people. Some people are walking stores and will try to sell their sunglasses/CDs/desserts inside other stores, bars, restaurants, etc.

    In short, my time here has been life-changing. I can’t believe it’s already been 3 months. I feel like I belong here in Brazil. I tried to keep this brief because 1) I could go on forever 2) writing in English has been getting hard for me so I will stop while I’m ahead, with minimal mistakes 3) I’m too busy living the life over here!

    Until next time,
    Beijos


  • Laura: Outbound to Brazil

    Here, Portuguese dominates my life. It’s good because I’ve been learning so much! Everyday I improve; however I’m still not comfortable hearing it all the time. I have no friends near me because school hasn’t stared yet. I am unable to go places alone because I don’t know my way around or how to stay safe. My parents aren’t here to hold my hand anymore. It is all very frustrating. 

     

    I spent a few minutes figuring out how to start this journal, how to sum up everything that’s been going on for the past two weeks; while 12 days sounds like nothing on the exchange spectrum, it’s been an eternity of learning, excitement, confusion, chaos, and emotion for me. I’d sum it up like this: “What is a comfort zone?!”

    As soon as I left my parents in the Fort Lauderdale airport to wait in my terminal, I was launched off my pedestal of comfort right there. I got lost in the airport and went through security twice... all in my hometown! I thought I was such an established and independent person, but I couldn’t navigate in my own language or city. How could I do this in a new country, in a new language, with nobody!?

    I was mollified at the airport in Recife when my host family came to meet me.. They were extremely nice and helpful in my first moments. From then on, I’ve had a great relationship with my host parents, three host brothers, and host puppy.

    (I’d like to add that I arrived the day of the final.. so I was technically here for the World Cup! Right!?)

    So far, I have noticed a few things that really struck me as different than the US. That’s right, not good, not bad, but different, exchangers!

    -The first thing that is incredibly charming to me about my city is the pay phones. It sounds strange, but they’re all shaped like little eggs! I’ve also seen some in other cities that look like umbrellas, and even trash cans shaped like coconuts!

    -It gets dark here at 5:30 pm which is very early compared to my 8:30 sunset in Florida.

    -Things that are made here in Brazil are super cheap, like coconut water which is the USD equivalent of 50 cents! Also, hand-made things like jewelry and art is very inexpensive. However, anything not from here is heavily taxed and costs a fortune! Things like clothes and phones are incredibly overpriced in comparison to US prices.

    -The fruit here is so delicious, ripe, and abundant. I’ve tried several new fruits that I didn’t know existed. I feel like I’ve discovered a new color or a new number each time I try a new one - something essential and great that I had no knowledge of!

    -I’ve gained the reputation of Miley Cyrus here. Apparently being a blonde, short-haired American makes me her twin. I don’t see the resemblance!

    -Besides the news and novelas, all the shows are American with Portuguese voice-overs or captions. I find a lot of the shows hilarious because the actors have completely different voices; however, I don’t know how I’ll get over Will Smith with a carioca accent...

    -It might just be my family, but coffee is a big thing here. Sometimes we/they have coffee four or five times a day!

    I’d like to talk about the difficulties as well, because although Rotary says the first few months are a honeymoon, I didn’t have this experience so far. I didn’t expect to feel so frustrated, confused, and lonely here already. I thought my maturity would equate into loving every second I’ve been in Brazil, but that’s far from the truth.

    As I said before, I’ve been kicked out of my comfort zone of English, friends, security, and family. Here, Portuguese dominates my life. It’s good because I’ve been learning so much! Everyday I improve; however I’m still not comfortable hearing it all the time. I have no friends near me because school hasn’t stared yet. I am unable to go places alone because I don’t know my way around or how to stay safe. My parents aren’t here to hold my hand anymore. It is all very frustrating.

    However more so than the difficulties, stepping outside my comfort zone has trusted me into incredible experiences, new friendships, and unforgettable memories. I’ve had so many ‘first times’ here in Brazil already.. my first taste of good sushi, my first horseback ride (on the side of a mountain!), my first luau, my first açai, my first Rotex friends.. I can go on.

    Through the tears, doubts, and bashful moments, it’s been well worth it. For all you students teetering between doing exchange and backing out, it’s worth it. Finally, to myself later on, when it becomes even harder for me here in Brazil, it’s been worth it.


     

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